Friday, October 31, 2014

In Praise of Non-Virtual Networking

The irony of denigrating virtual networking in a blog would not be lost on me, so I’m not going to do that. But in all of the virtual networking opportunities available, don’t forget the ones you pass in the hallway, at the coffee pot, or waiting to use the copy machine every day.

I’ve taught in someone else’s room for the last 10 years that I’ve been teaching 10th grade English. Five different someones. In some ways, not ideal. And yet the networking that has happened as I’ve learned from other people’s classroom arrangements, libraries, bulletin boards, and as those other people have caught parts of my classes, grading papers at the back of the room while I taught, as well as all the conversations that those encounters have sparked, have been significant.  

The first year I taught one class in a math room where the teacher had the desks in pods of 4. It was too much of a hassle to move them into rows and back for only 1 period, so I left them. And the engagement that happens when students discuss with a small group rather than a whole class—well, I’ve been using small groups as the backbone of my class ever since.

A year or two later I struck up a conversation with the 9th grade English/social studies teacher as I was clearing out of her room. I said, “You know how writing is now broken down into 6 traits, so that when students want to know how to become better writers, we can say more than, ‘Practice writing’? Shouldn’t there be a similar thing with reading—the 6 traits of reading? So that when students or their parents ask how they can become better readers, we can say more than, ‘Practice reading’?” She recalled a book by Cris Tovani that someone had talked to her about. Teaching reading hasn’t been the same in our school since.

For the last several years, I’ve been teaching in the 11th grade English/humanities room. That 11th grade teacher and I have developed a pretty high awareness of how our classes build. 

One of the highlights of my week was when that 11th grade English teacher reported having reminded a couple of students in search of an independent reading book that they had made a list at the end of 10th grade of 5 books they might be interested in reading over the summer. (Here's my blog about that activity.) He was even able to pull up the list for the student who’d forgotten all about it. The student then said, “Oh, yes, I wanted to read Divergent!” (This was a student who at the beginning of 10th grade had declared, “I don’t like to read, and I can’t remember any books.”)

I’m glad I read The Book Whisperer last spring and thought to have students make those lists. I’m glad I had the relationship with a colleague to share the lists. I’m glad the colleague remembered those lists and was able to pull them up for students. I’m glad the cumulative effect is students becoming more engaged readers.

The best idea in the world, all by itself, is just a good idea. Shared and reinforced in a community, it becomes growth. Who are you sharing your good ideas with? Whose good ideas are you sharing? 

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